The Price of Secrecy, Obama Edition

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


The covert events of the past weekend show the value of keeping certain government secrets closely guarded. But if you’re looking for a more quantifiable way of assessing the value the Obama administration places on secrecy, you’re in luck.

According to its new report to the president, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO)—the federal agency that provides oversight of the government’s security classification system—puts the cost of classification for 2010 at over $10.17 billion. That’s a 15 percent jump from the previous year, and the first time ever that secrecy costs have surpassed $10 billion. Last month, ISOO reported that the number of original classification decisions generated by the Obama administration in 2010 was 224,734—a 22.6 percent jump from the previous year.

The price tag of government secrecy is actually higher than the ISOO report suggests. The agency reviews the classification of 41 agencies—but not the CIA or the National Security Agency, among other agencies, whose classification is itself classified. The Federation of American Scientists’ Steve Aftergood asked two security officials what damage to national security would result from releasing security cost estimates for the agencies in question. Their answer: that classifying that information “was consistent with intelligence community guidance.” In other words: because we said so.

Aftergood points out that there’s a plan for reforming the classification process, waiting in the wings to the implemented. But the White House has dragged its feet, and it remains in policy purgatory.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate